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Are we thought-criminals?

‘Whether he wrote “Same sex marriage is not biblical”, or whether he refrained from writing it, made no difference.

Christian Institute / The Daily Telegraph / en

Figure Image
photo: iStock

‘The Thought Police would get him just the same. He had committed – would still have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper – the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it. Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed for ever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you.’ (George Orwell, 1984, updated).

Voicing criticism

A British Values monitor, part of the Prevent counter-terrorism strategy, said in mid-September that voicing criticism of homosexuality ‘might be breaking the law’.

Polly Harrow said people can believe homosexuality is wrong in their heads, but speaking it out loud could be illegal.

Harrow, Head of Safeguarding and Prevent at Kirklees College in Huddersfield, made the comments on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in a report on the Government’s counter-extremism policy.

Harrow was asked by the BBC’s Sima Kotecha whether a Muslim who believes that homosexuality is wrong should be accepted. She replied: ‘If that’s what you think and that’s what you believe and you want to hold that in your head, that is your business and your right. But bear in mind that if you speak it out loud you might be breaking the law.’

British Values

Harrow has the task of promoting British Values in the college in Huddersfield. She will raise any concerns about students and refer them to police if necessary.

She says that the British Values strategy is seeking ‘not just tolerance but acceptance of difference and of others’.

The college has received funding for her to carry out the work because of Government concerns over pupils being pulled into terrorism.

Government’s position

Harrow’s comments clash with statements from the Security Minister – John Hayes – who said the that Government’s plans are not about ‘criminalising Muslim communities’. And in May, Home Secretary Theresa May said ‘of course’ people will still be allowed to speak out against same sex marriage.

The Government’s counter-extremism strategy includes plans for Extremism Disruption Orders, which have come under fire over serious concerns about a clampdown on freedom of expression.

Conservative MP David Davis has warned that restricting free speech could further alienate people. Earlier in September, the Government watchdog on terrorism said the ‘liberties of every citizen are potentially affected’ by the plans. David Anderson QC noted that the current broad definition of extremism could lead to state investigation of the ‘exercise of core democratic freedoms by large numbers of law-abiding people’.

Removal of trustees

The strategy could also see the Government removing trustees from Christian charities, including schools, across England and Wales if they are deemed ‘extremist’, according to leaked Government legislation. The proposal, which appeared in a draft version of the Government’s new counter-extremism strategy, would give new powers to the Charity Commission to sack trustees.

According to The Daily Telegraph, to whom the leak was given, the draft states that ‘once the legislation is enacted, the Charity Commission will take action against all trustees who meet the definition of extremism set out in this document’.

The document defines extremism as ‘the vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs’.

A spokesman for the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations said: ‘We support powers to tackle extremism but we are concerned at how widely these measures could be interpreted. If the Government were to apply its definition of extremism, would the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, be able to occupy the second-highest position of trusteeship in the land?’

Backing down

In early September, the leaked draft of the Government counter-extremism strategy included a requirement that ‘all faiths [would] maintain a national register of faith leaders’ and the Government would ‘set out the minimum level of training and checks’ faith leaders must have to join the new register.

Registration would have been compulsory for all faith leaders who would wish to work with the public sector, including universities. This would have seen the turning back of the religious freedom clock to the 17th century, as well as aligning the UK with North Korea and other totalitarian regimes where religious freedom is monitored in the same way as this proposal.

The irony of the comments made by Harrow regarding ‘homosexual practice belief thoughtcrime’ juxtaposed with the Government having ‘thought’ of having this ‘religious register’, despite withdrawing it once it reached the public domain, isn’t lost on those examining the worrying path on which the Government appears to be set firm.